Honolulu Lite

by Charles Memminger

Friday, June 25, 1999

Columnists go to
bat in Louisville

YOU don't walk through the lobby of the Galt House Hotel in Louisville, Ky., as much as you wade through. At least when several hundred Presbyterians are lolling about, shoulder to shoulder, discussing theology and/or elevator theory.

Elevator theory was much discussed last week at the Galt House, an enormous hotel on the banks of the Ohio River where a mere hundred or so members of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists were shoe-horned into rooms not taken by the 1,100 Presbyterians, a seemingly equal number of Southern Baptists and, by the end of the week, a phalanx of karate experts. (Every hotel should host a karate championship. Guests tend to be more civil when there's a chance the stranger next to them can kick their head out into the street.)

I don't know how big a phalanx is, but with the thousands of Baptists and Presbyterians, the addition of a phalanx of any size was enough to overwhelm the measly four elevators. A crowd in a corner seemed to gaze toward the heavens for salvation but actually was merely tracking the elevators' feeble progress via the lighted numbers above each door.

The local newspaper said that 50,000 Southern Baptists were pouring into Louisville for a conference, and right then I felt that most of them were looking at me as I approached the elevators with a six-pack of Budweiser.

I'm not sure where Baptists or Presbyterians stand on the issue of beer consumption, but from the way they eyeballed me, you'd think I was lugging a kilo of cocaine through the lobby. (Ironic, considering Kentucky produces bourbon by the boatload.) I opted for the stairs instead of the stares. Over the next few days, I climbed more than Sir Edmund Hillary.

LOUISVILLE (locals say "Loo-a-vull"), home of the Kentucky Derby and Louisville Slugger baseball bat, is a clean, orderly city with free faux trolleys knocking back and forth through the downtown. Along Muhammad Ali Boulevard in the city's heart, blacks and whites meander in self-segregated clumps. Four days isn't enough time to conduct an in-depth review of racial relations in a part of the country where slavery once was practiced and where Ali threw his Olympic gold medal into the gray Ohio River to protest treatment of his people.

Obviously, things are better. A trolley rider's view of Louisville is one of a vibrant city of riverboats and horse racing, grand cathedrals and run-of-the-mill malls. People of every color are friendly and outgoing.

But what strikes the outsider, particularly one from Hawaii, is that blacks and whites still seem to exist in separate groups. In restaurants, for instance, tables tend to be exclusively black or white, rarely a mix.

For contrast, you only have to go to the massive Ala Moana Center Food Court. It is as if people from every race were shaken up in a box and poured out into the room, creating a mosaic of humanity. We take it for granted, which we should. We can only hope that the home of Muhammad Ali, who went from boxing champ to international goodwill ambassador, will get there yet.

By Sunday afternoon, the Presbyterians had decamped, the Baptists were at their meetings and the karate guys, many of them holding trophies the size of golf bags, were waiting outside for taxis. It was time for me to check out and, by the grace of God, the elevators were empty.

Charles Memminger, winner of
National Society of Newspaper Columnists
awards in 1994 and 1992, writes "Honolulu Lite"
Monday, Wednesday and Friday.
Write to him at the Honolulu Star-Bulletin,
P.O. Box 3080, Honolulu, 96802

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